About Beth

Beth
Beth, along with her husband, Mike, is co-owner of two Italian Deli/Markets in St. Louis - Viviano’s Festa Italiano. When not creating yummy new menu items for the deli, she’s the pediatric research lab supervisor at Washington University School of Medicine. Read more out about Viviano’s Festa Italiano.

About Irene

Irene
Irene loves to think, read and dream about food. She enjoys cooking & eating in general. Although she demures about her talents, Irene has a finely-tuned palate that her friends envy. She bakes on occasion. The rest of the time she's creating memories with her family and friends. . . or she's learning a new needlecraft technique.

About Deborah

Deborah
Deborah is a wife, mother, grandmother, traveler, bootlegger, and a very poor speller! As Victor Hazan so eloquently puts it, Deborah has chosen Umbria to be the home of her soul. When she can’t be there in body, she spends her free time cooking & reading about Italy. She blogs mostly about food and about trips – past and future – here: Old Shoes New Trip.

About Doug

Doug
Doug lives in Eastern Ontario in a farmhouse built in 1903. He is a retired teacher with four adult children, a wife, a son-in-law, two Irish step-grandchildren and one grandson who he is lucky to hang with a lot. He has way too many books. Doug also blogs at To Slow Time Down.

About Cindy

Cindy
Cindy lives in Eagle River, Alaska where her freezer is always full of salmon, halibut & shrimp. Cindy participates in several regular cooking challenges. You can read more about her cooking and life in the last frontier on her blog, Baked Alaska.

About Sandi

Sandi
Sandi is a true Southerner, but a traveler & Italian cook at heart. She lives in Alabama and knows more about fried green tomatoes than fricassees. Her family owned the WhistleStop Café for many years. Sandi also blogs at Whistlestop Cafe Cooking.

About Jan

Jan
Jan, a serious home cook, has owned “Essentials” since 1992. She is passionate about all things Italian, especially the cuisine & the language. Jan blogs about her travels (next trip Italy May/June of 2010) at: Keep your Feet in the Street.

About Jerry

Jerry
Jerry is a food obsessed Canadian. He learned to love Italian food as a child while eating the meals prepared by his Napolitano uncle. He learned to cook Italian foods by watching his uncle cook these feasts for the family. This love of Italian food has been honed through serious personal experimentation in eating and cooking. Willing to try most anything once, Jerry isn't so sure about tripe! Jerry also blogs at Jerry's Thoughts, Musings, and Rants!

About Palma

Palma
Palma is a Marriage & Family Therapist in Palm Desert, CA. She’s an Italian-American with a passion for cooking, entertaining, & travel to Italy. She’s always planning her next culinary adventure to Italia on her blog, Palmabella's Passions

About Kim

Kim
Kim is our permanent sub and the image above gives you a good idea of the look on her face when she realized she was drafted. Kim loves to eat, drink, travel and cook - probably in that order. When she's not here, you can find her organizing and leading food, wine and beer tours in Europe as co-owner and operator of GrapeHops or blogging at What I Really Think.

Main

Appetizers Archives

March 28, 2010

Crostini Bianchi-Ricotta and Anchovy Canapes

I am so lucky to have this as the first recipe of the project. I have been dreading this blogging idea because I may be a pretty fair cook, but I don’t consider myself a good writer. So, I ask your sufferance with my style and understand that the point is just the food.

I haven’t posted my bio yet, so I thought I would give you a little background. My husband and I have been married 22 years and for the first 15 people were always telling us that we should open a restaurant. We finally did. It is a unique place for our area. We have a deli, Italian grocery, and a café. We also do a lot of catering. There are 3 owners, Michael, Becky and myself. Michael, my husband, is the people person. He is the one everyone comes to see. Becky, my sister, handles all of the financials and most of the management pieces. I am responsible for all of the recipes and a lot of the computer work. We all have our strengths and weaknesses, but we balance out pretty well.

With this recipe the hardest part was not changing anything. When I am creating a recipe for the store, I always start with 4 or 5 that sound promising and then I combine the parts until I end up with something that I really like. When I first read the recipe, I saw that it called for 8 anchovies. I started to cut it back, but realized that I had to be true to Marcella’s recipe, so I followed it exactly. We have a new brand of anchovies that we just started carrying at the store. The brand is Agostino Recca. I am so glad that I had these. They are so mellow compared to other brands that I have used. When I combined all of the ingredients I was amazed at how good it tasted. The ingredients are simple, ricotta, butter, anchovies, EVOO, and freshly ground black pepper. The quality of the ingredients really shine in this recipe. I toasted the bread (Fazio’s Italian sliced bread, for those of you in the St. Louis area). I then sliced off the crusts, cut the slices in half and then half again, and then covered them with the ricotta mixture. My only regret when making these was that we didn’t have any company over to eat them.
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Okay, so this wasn’t so hard, maybe I will get used to it!

March 29, 2010

Hard-Boiled Eggs with Green Sauce

In my family it is a well established fact that I do not eat eggs. I have suffered brunch after brunch dealing with this unfortunate reality. No, I am not allergic but the reaction is absolute. As luck would have it, my first recipe of the food challenge is an egg appetizer. Blat!

I reviewed the recipe and decided that organic eggs were the only way to go. This cold appetizer is the Italian cousin to another egg dish, Deviled Eggs. Go to any American bridal shower, potluck or picnic and 9 times out of 10 you can find them there. I wonder if the same is true for this recipe somewhere in Italy. The process is the same: boil eggs, mix cooked yolks with ingredients, spoon atop egg whites. The ingredients are not. Italian pantry staples of capers, anchovies, and extra virgin olive oil are the supporting ingredients in this dish.

Thinking about my brothers and sisters in Christ preparing to celebrate miracles this week, I prepared the recipe with hope in my heart. Hope that a teeny tiny miracle could be bestowed upon me. I want to eat eggs. You can’t always get what you want. So just in case:

I, Irene, promise to taste every single food item I prepare during this Italian food challenge. I will do so with a cheerful palate and disregard to food aversions or unfamiliar ingredients. Because food is fun and all is well when you are among friends.

Hard-Boiled Eggs with Green Sauce
Hard-Boiled Eggs with Green Sauce

I was surprised to find the green sauce was not that green. Sadly, no egg eating miracles where performed. I gave myself a pat on the back and a glass of white wine anyway. I’ll try eggs again in August.

Hard-Boiled Egg with Green Sauce
Another view


©2010 Irene D. Ericson

March 30, 2010

Roasted Peppers and Anchovies

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I love anchovies. I love their fishiness. I love the way they melt in a pan to become this wonderful not quite liquid flavoring for other foods. For me, anchovies are the secret behind that illusive fifth flavor - umami - in many dishes.

So, I appreciate the lesson Marcella offers on page 9.

As this project begins, I hope all of our readers will take the time to treat Fundamentals from page 7 through page 51 of Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking like a textbook. Don't start following the recipes until you've studied the Fundamentals. Even the most practiced home cook will learn much. Even those of you who have a well worn copy of Essentials can benefit from going back to the beginning and actually studying the Fundamentals.

After all of that, right out of the gate, I had to go to Marcella's plan 'b' in order to prepare my very first challenge recipe.

I couldn't find salt packed anchovies anywhere. Not even at my old reliable Global Foods. They offered to try to order them for me. But their source was Roland. No offense to Roland, but their quality isn't the top of the line in most instances, and I didn't want to risk it.

So, plan 'b' according to Marcella is glass packed (so you can see the amount of meat), imported, and probably expensive.

Thank goodness, Viviano's had something better than Roland. Agostino Recca is a great brand. And at about $8.00 a jar, not cheap. But the anchovies were beautiful.

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Now on to the peppers. I am sure there are very solid production and shipping cost arguments to justify it, but I have a very hard time swollowing a price of $2.00 each for peppers. Many things I will pick up in a store and not even make note of the price. Fennel for example. But for some reason the price of peppers just gets under my skin! I digress.

I roasted my pepper. First on a tray over the burners.

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I didn't like the amount of time it was taking because of those silly holes. So, I took Marcella's advice and did what I should have from the start. I put the peppers directly in the flame.

Finally, I prepped the roasted peppers and gathered all of the ingredients to layer in my serving dish.

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Two hours later, we enjoyed our "appetizer" with a crostini. We enjoyed it a lot. We enjoyed it so much that the four of us polished the entire dish off as a complete meal.

March 31, 2010

Roasted Eggplant with Peppers and Cucumber

The first thing that you notice with this dish is it's amazing colors. I'm making this at the beginning of Spring but it is definately something that would be wonderful on a hot summer evening when the vegetables are at their peak freshness. I have to emphasize how easy this recipe is.

It calls for the eggplant to be grilled or done under a broiler, which I chose to do since the wind was ready to blow me off of my deck today. The result in the broiler was perfectly fine. One very important step is to make sure the eggplant has time to release it's juices after being cooked. I let it sit for about half an hour after removing it from the broiler.

During this time it needs to be over a strainer. It was a very quick recipe with most of the time involved actually during the straining process. I used a very good olive oil, and added the salt at the last moment before serving just like Marcella recommends.

You can serve it as a salad or on toast, so I served it bruschetta style. I used a whole wheat baguette that I brushed with olive oil and toasted in the oven for about 5 minutes. I topped it with my pepper, cucumber and eggplant mixture and garnished with parsley. The presentation was very colorful.

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The only thing that could have improved it was the state of my vegetables due to the fact that it isn't peak season for the peppers and what I had to choose from at the supermarket wasn't ideal. This will definately be pulled back out and done to it's glory in July when the vegetables can do the recipe it's justice. It was a great way to start the cooking challenge, simple, fresh and giving me the time to focus on the harder task of learning how to blog, which I might add I am not a fan of. I try to steer clear of technology whenever possible. You won't see me using gadgets, or shortcuts in the kitchen either. Let that explain my out of focus shots and my obvious lack of computer savvy that I display in the next year of our cooking challenge. I am much more comfortable behind my stove than behind my computer. If only you could taste the recipes instead of only see my sad idea of food photography. With that explained...bring on the next recipe!


April 1, 2010

Marinated Carrot Sticks

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This is Cindy, and it's time for my first recipe from "The Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking". When I saw the first recipe I was to make in this challenge, I have to admit, I was a little disappointed. Marinated Carrot Sticks? How much of a challenge could those be to make and how special could a marinated carrot taste?

Well, let me tell you-I jumped to the wrong conclusion. These were a wonderful cold appetizer. The carrots are cooked in salted water until tender, then marinated in a mixture of olive oil, red wine vinegar, garlic, oregano, and salt and pepper. The garlic and vinegar flavor is not overwhelming at all, just adds a subtle background flavor. The oregano is a little more pronounced. These Marinated Carrot Sticks would be a very nice addition to any appetizer platter. If they last that long. I took them over to my husband to have him taste, and within 5 or 10 minutes we had eaten every one of them!

April 2, 2010

Carciofi alla Romana (Artichokes, Roman style)

I am Sandi, blogging fromthe WhistleStop Cafe kitchen. This is my first recipe from our Pomodori e Vino cooking challenge, and luckily it is one of my favorites when eating at a Roman trattoria. Carciofi alla Romana~ or Artichokes, Roman style.

The first of many weekly challenges... to find the right kind of ingredients here in Alabama. I managed to find the large globe artichokes, which are not exactly the stout, tender artichokes found in Italy. Allora. These will just have to work.
Most of the essentials of Italian cooking involve the 'process' of cooking. Marcella goes into details about the proper way to clean and prepare the artichokes... which is essential for most dishes using the fresh artichoke.

First~ remove the outer leaves. If at first this seems wasteful, she says it is more wasteful to cook something that can't be eaten. (I like her thinking!)
Continue until you reach the tender inner leaves. Cut the tips of the inner leaves off.Rub all of the cut surfaces with lemon to prevent browning.Mean while, mince some mint, parsley, garlic and mix with salt and pepper.Rub the chokes well with the herbs and place tops down in a pot and cook until tender~ the smell is amazing! I served mine with some nice mint and fennel risotto.
Remember~ a new recipe everyday!
Buon Appetito y'all,
Sandi

April 3, 2010

Mushroom, Parmesan Cheese, and White Truffle Salad

Where to begin . . .

Hello. This is Jerry and today I join the ranks of the other obsessive cooks making our way through 'Essentials'.

That was poetic. Or not.

Some initial thoughts? I LOVE Marcella. I have come to appreciate how she has tried to make Italian cooking accessible to North American cooks much the same way Julia Child did French cooking. I like the way Marcella provides great advice to the North American cook so that we can experience success with the recipes . . . can't find a particular ingredient in NA - this would be a good substitute. Sure, you may not end up with the same results as if you scouraged the market in a small idyllic Italian town but you're not in Italy are you? You might wish you were but reality is that you're in a suburb of Toronto and white truffles aren't to be found.

I've cooked Italian food for yonks. Seriously, it has probably been more than 40 years since I first grabbed a spoon and a spatula and helped Uncle Romolo work up a feast for the family. Uncle Romolo may be gone but his lessons for me are not - Italian food is simple, fresh, and comforting. Take that Olive Garden (AKA Italian Food HELL)!

Marcella is a master of this minimalistic technique.

This strikes home even more when one considers that Hazan was raised during the depression and the war. Readers of history know that these were particularly challenging years for those who were living in Italy. People made do with what they could find. Food wasn't wasted. Simple pleasures were what it was all about.

This recipe is a perfect example of this. Five ingredients - mushrooms, lemon juice, parmesan cheese, olive oil. Top with some salt (I left this out) and freshly ground pepper and you're good. The recipe has white truffles as an option. I've eaten white truffles in Piemonte when they are in season. They are DIVINE. I would have loved to have added white truffles to this dish but they were not to be found.

I wrote Hazan to see about substituting black truffles instead. She promptly wrote back:


Oh, Jerry!

This definitely is not white truffle season, and even if it were you might have second thoughts about using them, considering the price they now bring. The thing about white truffles is the aroma, there is nothing else like it, and black truffles don’t come anywhere near it. If you read the headnote, it tells you to skip the truffles if they are not available (or too expensive). If you use the right olive oil (see the headnote) and a good parmigiano-reggiano the result will still be delicious.


Classic Hazan. Use fresh, local ingredients, and enjoy the joy that simplicity brings to your plate!

We had this salad for dinner tonight - it was a Good Friday treat. It was brilliant. Because there are so few ingredients you want to use the best ingredients - no cheap olive oil and crap Wisconsin parmesan cheese ('how can that even be allowed?' he wonders allowed . . .) here. Use the best ingredients that you can find and your taste buds will sing . . .

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Oh Marcella, I am gonna LOVE cooking my way through your cookbook!

April 4, 2010

Tomatoes Stuffed with Shrimp

I am so glad that Deborah invited me to be a part of this adventure! I had always taken shortcuts in recipes where I didn’t think it would make a difference in the final taste of the food. That is why I had never made my own mayonnaise before. Boy, was I missing out. The difference was amazing. I have to say that since my background is science, I couldn’t feel good about playing with the salmonella factor, so I did buy whole pasteurized eggs. I was a little worried that this would change the eggs ability to work in the recipe, but it didn’t.

I do wish that I could have been making this recipe during July or August, because most of the tomatoes that are available in the stores now are not so great. I did find some “on the vine” tomatoes that looked good, so I decided to go with them. I can’t wait until this summer to make this with the delicious heirloom tomatoes that I can get from the farmers market!

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The recipe is simple, but the combination of flavors is powerful. Michael and I ate this immediately after making, but I think that if I had let the flavors marinate for a few hours it would have been even better. Michael loves capers, so he was in heaven with this dish.


This is such a beautiful way to serve shrimp. I almost felt like one of the “ladies who lunch”.

April 5, 2010

Tomatoes Stuffed with Tuna

Tuna, Tuna my dear old friend.
We meet weekly I can’t pretend.
Sweet and flaky that’s what you are.
I love you as salad; my favorite by far.


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Tomatoes Stuffed with Tuna


I was excited to see that I would once again try to make homemade mayonnaise. My first attempt eight years ago was a disaster. So much so I have not tried to make it again. My excitement quickly fizzed after several attempts this past week including two tries this morning resulting in nothing even close to resembling mayo. I was pressed for time and needed to post this blog while it was still Monday so I substituted commercially prepared mayo. No boos please.


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Mayo refusing to emulsify


This recipe is a tuna salad made with mayonnaise, Dijon mustard and capers stuffed inside a tomato. Over the years I have always eaten canned tuna packed in water. This is the first time I’ve had canned tuna packed in oil. Marcella was right. It has more flavor. The results are simple and delicious with a slightly salty bite.

©2010 Irene D. Ericson

April 6, 2010

In Carpione - Fried Marinated Fresh Sardines

In Carpione-Fried Marinated Fresh Sardines

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Of course my sardines didn’t come from Lago Garda, so they weren’t the best possible. But they were wild caught and ship-frozen for freshness. So when I thawed them they looked like they would start flopping around. They smelled like clean sea air. Their scales were shiny and tight & their flesh was firm to the touch.

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Obviously my sardines bear no resemblance to the ones found in tins with the ring pull openers. If the latter are the only kind you’re familiar with, you have yet to experience sardines.

Marcella’s recipe is a simple preparation of fresh sardine filets, lightly fried, and marinated in a subtle dressing of oil, onions, white wine vinegar, bay leaves, and a little salt & pepper.

Filet a pound of sardines, cut into two or three pieces, dredge in flour, and fry in vegetable oil. Arrange in a single layer in an appropriately sized platter. Sprinkle with salt and pepper.

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In about half of the oil that the fish was fried in, lightly sauté a cup of thinly sliced onions, just to soften. Then add ½ cup white wine vinegar and bring to a quick boil. Pour over the fish in the platter and add a few bay leaves. Cover with foil and let sit at room temperature for about 12 hours.

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Can be refrigerated. But return to room temperature before serving.

April 7, 2010

Cold Trout in Orange Marinade

In the next 62 weeks, invariably there will be recipes that we make that we are not very fond of. I am going to make this one, mine. I am not someone who loves fish though. I try to, because it is good for me and everyone else loves it, but my nose tells me that it isn’t happening. I look at the gray, scaled little thing and it doesn’t scream “Eat me!” at all. I have had every kind of fish, every way possible and still, nothing.

I seriously enjoyed the hunt though. It wasn’t easy to find fish with heads and tails in the corrupt food world that we live in. I called numerous local stores and none of them could accommodate me. I heard the same thing time and again, “There just isn’t any demand for them.” That tells me something, that people are getting lazy! Just like the chicken breasts that have lost bone and skin. Fish are now only acceptable completely stripped down and ready to go. Unfortunately, that means losing flavor and freshness! So, I began my search. I found a super friendly Fish guy at Whole Foods who was more than willing to help me out. He had my fish ready to go when I arrived, scaled them right in front of me and wished me the best. He is my new “go to guy” for seafood. So, after I drove 50 miles round trip and lost my debit card in the process….but happily retrieved it from the gas station where I lost it , I began cooking my little headed darlings.

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They appeard so fresh and beautiful before I cooked them. They didn’t even smell have that fishy smell that I hate, which is a sign of a fresh fish. Their color was wonderful, eyes still bright not glazed over with the effect of days in a cooler. Yes, these were my perfect little fish. I hated to cook them with their innocent little eyes watching me as I prepared the flour to dredge them in.

The recipe itself was easy to follow. The marinade process took some time but that is what adds the flavor to the dish. The house smelled wonderful and I was really thinking I would finally love a fish dish! The orange peel added an extra nuance to the flavor and everything was going “swimmingly” (no pun intended).

I let my little fish marinade for about 3 hours and then moved them to the refrigerator fearing food poisoning if they rested at room temperature any longer. They remained in the fridge until lunch time the next day, as the recipe recommended.

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I was really excited about my lunch. It looked pretty interesting once plated. One bite revealed differently to me though, “no, I still am not a fish person and definitely not a cold fish person.” So, once again I am more of a chicken or beef type of gal. I can definitely hang with the veggie crowd, but no-you won’t see me at the sushi bar anytime soon. I really do apologize to Marcella for this because I know it is a wonderful recipe, I could smell that and see that from the beginning. It is more my palate’s problem than the recipe’s, this I am sure! So it does have my recommendation for everyone else to try!

April 8, 2010

Gamberetti all'Olio d Limone-Poached Shrimp with Olive Oil and Lemon Juice

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Today we have another appetizer that contains seafood-Shrimp! I love shrimp, and am always excited to try a new recipe that contains shrimp. If you've read my blog, you know that my husband and I shrimp out of Prince William Sound in Alaska. So we always have a freezer-full of shrimp.

This recipe has you simmer the shrimp briefly in water and a few spices, then while warm, you let the shrimp have a nice long bath in olive oil and lemon juice. You serve them at room temperature, not refrigerated. They are so fresh tasting! The lemon really makes a difference. Be sure and serve them with nice toasty bread to mop up all of that good olive oil.

April 9, 2010

Insalata Russa--Shrimp Salad with Assorted Vegetables

I'm so excited to post my first entry on the blog dedicated to Marcella Hazan.
I'm Jan from Tallahassee, Florida.
The recipe is called "Russian Salad" and Marcella says that the only thing Russian about it is that it includes beets. In my travels in Piemonte, I remember eating insalata russa in some restaurants and it being simple potato salad. This was far from a simple potato salad. It was fantastic!

First, I had to boil the shrimp, in their shells, with salt and a little vinegar in the water. We are lucky enough to get fabulous, fresh, wild Gulf of Mexico shrimp here and they lived up to their reputation.

Then I had to make the mayonnaise. I had done it before in the food processor but not in the stand mixer; it worked out fine. I used extra virgin olive oil and the resulting color was a beautiful light greenish shade. The flavor was really powerful when it was first finished; I was afraid it would be overwhelming but it worked beautifully in the salad. (My first lesson in trusting Marcella)


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Then I cooked all the various veggies before cutting them into little cubes.
It made a very colorful mise in place.

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Then the real fun began. After folding everything together, you form the salad into a dome shape and basically "ice" it with the remaining mayo. I didn't have quite enough for a thinck layer but I thought the effect was pretty enough. After covering the dome, you get to play--decorating the surface and plate with the reserved vegetables and shrimp.

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The best part is that the salad tastes devine! The flavors of each vegetable are there but they meld, with the help of the assertive mayonnaise, to a wonderful, complex harmony. We really enjoyed this seasonal offering.
I can't wait to try the next recipe in the book!

April 10, 2010

Salmon Foam

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I’m Palma, in Palm Desert, and the last cook to post a recipe. I’ll be sharing Saturdays with my friend Jerry. I am very excited about this cooking challenge, and I know Marcella has wonderful recipes, so there are lots of great foods to look forward to! I must confess to “sneaking ahead” in the cookbook and trying several other dishes.

My first recipe was Salmon Foam, and I must admit I am not a huge salmon fan. I have never tried canned salmon, but this appetizer couldn’t be more simple. Luckily, my husband does like salmon! Well, Of course, I HAD to taste the final product, and guess what? It was light and airy and not too "salmony".

You just clean and flake the salmon, mix it well with some good olive oil, freshly squeezed lemon juice and freshly ground pepper. Then make whipped cream. Yes, I said, WHIPPED CREAM, and fold it thoroughly into the salmon mixture. It is like a salmon mousse. I’d love to try it with canned Italian tuna in olive oil. I bring back LOTS of Italian tuna every year when I visit Italy!

The salmon foam is pretty sitting on radicchio leaves and garnished with a thinly sliced lemon from my tree, and capers or a black olive! Buon appetito!

April 11, 2010

Poached Tuna and Potato Roll

Well, sometimes I am reminded that cooking can be a lot like a science experiment. We have a saying at the lab, be wary of things that work perfectly the first time, because they may never work that well again. Today I learned the same lesson at home. I didn’t have any problems making the mayo the first time however, today… it just didn’t work. I thought I had done everything correctly, but I should have known that Marcella would have the answer and she did. The second time around I heated the bowl and beaters before starting and I left the egg to warm up for about 30 minutes before I started. This made all of the difference in the world. It set up perfectly the second time. I used a mixture of half EVOO and half vegetable oil with the pasteurized egg yolk, of course. I added the lemon, chopped anchovy and capers and it tasted great.

I wish I could be as enthusiastic about the tuna and potato roll. I love tuna and eat it all the time. However, I don’t think I am a fan of poached fish. The tuna, potato, parmesan and egg mixture seemed appealing before I poached it. As a matter of fact I had to stop myself from sampling it at that point. The poaching liquid was pretty basic. Lots of veggies and white wine, you can’t go wrong there! It smelled great at first. The longer it cooked though, the fish smell got stronger. I poached it for the 45 minutes that the recipe calls for and then unrolled it. I let it cool and then cut and plated it. I then took the mayo mixture and piped it onto the slices of tuna roll and then added the slivers of Kalamata Olives.

Marcella recommended overlapping the tuna slices and then piping the mayo on top. My slices were a little tender, so it was easier for me to reshape them flat on the plate. I think it looks pretty good. This challenge will definitely make me better at the arrangement of the food on the plate. In the past I was more worried about the taste of the food instead of about how it looked, but this is really teaching me to take more time with the appearance.

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So, for what it is worth this is the first recipe that I have tried that I probably wouldn’t make again. I think for people who like poached fish it would be great. However, that just isn’t me.

April 12, 2010

Poached Tuna and Spinach Roll

At first this week's recipe seemed unusual to me. Why would someone want to poach canned tuna? After the first bite I understood. My taste buds danced and my mind wandered to a scene from my favorite movie, Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory. It was like I was Violet Beauregarde with the multi-course piece of gum. With every chew she savored a delicious surprise. The same was true for me while I enjoyed my forkful of this delight. As I continued chewing I could taste every ingredient as if I had taken a bite of each one individually. Yay!


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Recipe Summary:
Oil packed canned tuna is mixed with fresh spinach (gently cooked & moisture removed), anchovy fillets, eggs, bread crumbs, a generous amount of parmigiano-reggiano cheese and bread that has been soaked in milk. Next, the mixture is formed into a log and rolled up in a dampened cheese cloth for containment during a little simmer in a white wine and vegetable poaching liquid. Cool, slice, drizzle with extra virgin olive oil & lemon juice, garnish and serve.

©2010 Irene D. Ericson

April 13, 2010

Bruschetta - Roman Garlic Bread

How many Italian cookbooks actually give you the step by step for something as basic as bruschetta? Like falling off a log, right? Well, truthfully, yes.

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Just because it's so simple as to hardly be a recipe at all, doesn't mean it isn't a satisfying project. Especially if you let yourself concentrate on being in the moment and coaxing the very best out of the ingredients.

I made a fresh loaf of rustic bread. While it was cooling I fired up the grill so the grate would be good and hot. When the loaf had cooled completely, I sliced and grilled the bread.

Then I rubbed the warm grilled slices with freshly smashed garlic; spread on the olive oil; and sprinkled with course salt and freshly cracked pepper.

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SCREETCH.....rewind. "What? You spread on the olive oil? Don't you mean drizzled?"

Nope, I mean spread. Like butter, with a knife. I've been spreading my olive oil for about five years now. Ever since I discovered that I can keep that fresh pressed taste of October for as long as my freezer is plugged in.

My favorite grassy, peppery oil comes from my friend, Mauro Colonna, the owner of Le Casa Gialle, near Perugia in Umbria. He has a standing order from me every fall. Two 5 litre tins for me, and a half-dozen bottles for Christmas gifts. From the day his pickers hit the trees to the day my unfiltered green gold is been delivered by the UPS lady can be counted on two hands. This is a major investment - mainly because of the shipping charges, which are more than the oil itself. So, I want the flavor to last. That is how I came to discover freezing.

I found that when I take a container out of my freezer and transfer it to my fridge, it will thaw to a soft-spread consistance. Similar to tub margarine. Except, it melts so incredibly fast that you can't have it out of the fridge for more than a few minutes at a time. Once melted, it doesn't return to the smooth soft-spread consistancy again. That's why I freeze in small 4oz containers.

Here is what olive oil looks like in its three states. Frozen, soft-spread, & liquid.

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OK you purists, fire away. Tell me what you think of me messing with Mama Italia's finest product.
Tell me that I should just be satisfied to let my oil slowly mellow.
Tell me that I will begin to take the beauty of that wonderful fresh green taste for granted if I can have it any time I want.
And then, when you're finished chastizing me...
...come be my guest for a summer meal featuring autumn's oil.

April 14, 2010

Carciofi alla Giudia- Crisp Fried Whole Artichokes

When it comes to artichokes you either love them or hate them. My love for them is bittersweet. I love the taste and texture they lend to any dish-but I hate working with them. Anything that pricks my fingers annoys me, but like anything good sometimes you have to accept the pain to get to the pleasure.

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After trimming the artichoke to it's fine interior by carefully folding the delicate leaves outward and trimming the inedible tops, I pushed it down on a board to fan it's leaves outward and then placed it in the hot vegetable oil as Marcella states to do. The cooking process is fast, under 10 minutes and you must keep a close eye on it to keep it from burning. Like anything fried, it smells wonderful.
I have to admit I am not a fan of deep fried anything. I can't remember the last time I fried. But anything fried does taste great-and if you're going to eat fried foods I would think a veggie would be your healthiest option!
So there you have it, another less-is-more from Marcella. The process is simple, the ingredient list slim and the outcome pleasing--give it a try!

April 15, 2010

Baked Stuffed Mushroom Caps

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It's Cindy again, and it's now time for me to move on to hot appetizers. My appetizer for the day is Baked Stuffed Mushroom Caps. This recipe was different than any others I've made before-you know, bread crumbs, onions, spices, maybe sausage? In this recipe, you do have the bread crumbs and chopped mushroom stems, but there's lots of additional interesting ingredients. One such ingredient is dried porcini mushrooms. So can you imagine the taste of a baked mushroom which contains of stuffing of porcini mushrooms, pancetta, anchovy fillets, basil, garlic and marjoram? Very flavorful!

I do have one thing I would probably do different in this recipe when I make them again. The recipe calls for a fair amount of pancetta. I love the flavor of pancetta. If you don't know what pancetta is, Marcella gives a wonderful description in her book. Basically, it is the Italian version of bacon. I bought some while in Little Italy in San Diego, and was really looking forward to using it. It was the kind known as pancetta stesa, which is a cured, flat version still attached to it's rind. Anyway, the piece of pancetta I had was almost all fat. There was very little meat on it. In the recipe, you finely dice it and add it to the other raw ingredients, which are then stuffed in the mushroom and baked. Unfortunately, my pieces of pancetta didn't break down well during the cooking, and I was left with a lot of small pieces of flavorful fat in my mushrooms. While the flavor was good, the mouthfeel wasn't. So next time, if my pancetta contains a large amount of fat, I would pre-cook that pancetta to render out some of the fat first.

April 16, 2010

Bagna Caoda

I first saw that I was making a Bagna Caoda, I had no clue what it was.
None.
This was a learning experience for me (one of many I am sure!)
Marcella describes the flavors and sensations of the Piedmontese table being celebrated through the bagna caoda. The cold simple vegetables accompanied by the heat of the bagna caoda~ caoda being the word for hot. She recommends vegetables such as cardoons, artichokes, radishes, carrots, peppers and assorted greens for dipping.

Bagna Caoda is a dip of olive oil, butter, garlic and fresh anchovy fillets. The anchovies melt as the oil is warmed over a small flame. It is served with the freshest raw vegetables. You dip the vegetables into the hot oil.

Of course, I had a heck of a time finding Italian vegetables in Alabama. This must not have been the week for a shipper of fresh artichokes. No fresh anchovies as Marcella prefers, I just used the tiny fillets in a glass jar at Whole Funds.

The sensation of the cool and crisp vegetables with the hot thickened oil is amazing. The anchovies melt into a paste and all but disappear, leaving a warm salty flavor.

We enjoyed it with friends who are leaving for Italy in just a few days~ the perfect appetizer! We drank wine and talked bella Italia!
Ciao y'all~

April 17, 2010

Ostriche alla Tarantina - Baked Oysters with Oil and Parsley

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I was having a less than enthusiastic attitude about oysters. Though I love ALL other shellfish, I must admit, I have never eaten an oyster. This poem inspired me to embrace the little guys I was preparing:

The Oyster (author unknown)

There once was an oyster
Whose story I tell,
Who found that some sand
Had got into his shell.
It was only a grain,
But it gave him great pain.
For oysters have feelings
Although they’re so plain.

Now, did he berate
The harsh working of fate
That had brought him
To such a deplorable state?
Did he curse at the government,
Cry for election,
And claim that the sea should
Have given him protection?

No – he said to himself
As he lay on a shell,
Since I cannot remove it,
I shall try to improve it.
Now the years have rolled around,
As the years always do,
And he came to his ultimate
Destiny – stew.

And the small grain of sand
That had bothered him so
Was a beautiful pearl
All richly aglow.
Now the tale has a moral;
For isn’t it grand
What an oyster can do
With a morsel of sand?

What couldn’t we do
If we’d only begin
With some of the things
That get under our skin.

The first challenge was finding fresh oysters in the southern California desert. Our upscale grocery store had them! Now I had to get the little suckers open. My husband thought he had an oyster shucking knife. It was nowhere to be found. Three knives later, we found one that did the trick. (Luckily we only made a dozen, or it could have gotten ugly!)

The preparation was simple. Fill a baking dish with rock salt or clean pebbles so the cleaned oyster shells will stay in place. Each full half shell, of the is sprinkled with bread crumbs, pepper, fresh parsley, and a few drops of olive oil. They are baked in a very hot oven for a few minutes, then squeezed with a lemon. I did taste one, and Brad enjoyed the rest!

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April 18, 2010

Grilled Mussels and Clams on the Half Shell

This was a recipe that I was looking forward to making, so I was really upset to have it this week. That’s because my two young nieces and I all were all battling a stomach bug this week. I won’t go into details, but suffice it to say that seafood of any type was not on my menu. Once again, my husband Michael came to my rescue and served as the taster. I ran it over to him at our restaurant at the end of the night and he shared it with a couple of our regulars. It got rave reviews all around! I will definitely need to repeat this when I can enjoy it too.

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I had never worked with fresh mussels and clams before so I was a little nervous. I found some great ones at Whole Foods. Pricey, but I figured that they would be fresh. I stored them overnight in my fridge covered with a damp paper towel. It was intriguing to see them open up when I first put them into the water. I washed and scrubbed them about 4 times until they were clean. I then put them into a stock pot and turned the heat on high. It didn’t take long before they started popping open. I was wondering how I would know when they opened because the lid was supposed to be on the pot. It didn’t take long to figure out that they make a little clinking noise when they open, caused by the shells moving on the bottom of the pan. Marcella said to pull them out immediately after they open to keep the meat from getting tough. This must work because Michael just couldn’t get over how tender they were.

The next step was to remove the meat from the shells, saving one half of the shell for the next step. I then washed the clams in their juices to remove the last bit of sand. I did find one clam that smelled really bad at this point so I disposed of it. The others all opened and looked great. I then marinated the clams and mussels with breadcrumbs, olive oil, garlic and parsley. While they were marinating I washed the saved shells and placed them on a broiling pan. Next I peeled and seeded tomatoes and cut them into strips for the topping. I then transferred the clams and mussels back to their respective shells, put the extra breadcrumb mixture on the top, and then put a strip of tomato on top. Grilling for a few minutes until they bubbled was the last step. These looked amazing and smelled great too, which given my situation is saying a lot. Marcella has done it again.


April 19, 2010

Sautéed Scallops with Garlic and Parsley

This week the star ingredient is bay scallops. I have enjoyed these sweet little nibbles for years. I love them simply prepared with only a splash of oil, salt and pepper. I refuse to eat them any other way. Well except for today.

This dish is very easy to make. The scallops are quickly sautéed with garlic and extra virgin olive oil. Next they are combined with parsley, capers, roasted red peppers and bread crumbs. The instructions say to distribute the dish among four scallop shells for serving. I looked high and low but I could not find scallop shells nor could I find small gratin dishes. So one large gratin dish was used and it worked out just fine. The scallops are placed under the broiler for a minute to lightly brown. How do they taste? Marcella says it best, “They are both tender and savory.”


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Sautéed Scallops with Garlic and Parsley


©2010 Irene D. Ericson

April 20, 2010

Arrosticini Abruzzesi-Skewered Marinated Lamb Tidbits

I was pleased to draw Arrosticini Abruzzesi for my last appetizer recipe before we move on to soups. As a tidbit in the protein category, lamb is a nice change of pace from the typical shrimp or chicken.

Marcella’s treatment of lamb shoulder is simple and straight forward. As with all of her recipes, it remembers that it is, after all, about the lamb.

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I ask the butcher at Global Foods to cut a specific piece from a large shoulder for me. I explained that I needed it to be at least ½ inch thick, and wanted plenty of marbling. I also needed enough meat to be able to cut 2-3 inch strips without having to deal with bone getting in the way. As usual, I got what I asked for.

After cutting the meat into strips, I put it in a plastic bowl with a smashed garlic clove, 2 tablespoons evoo, salt and fresh ground pepper, and ½ teaspoon dried marjoram.

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Two hours later, I threaded the meat in a candy ribbon style on water soaked skewers. Broiled them for a few minutes on each side, and served them immediately to an appreciative audience.

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September 17, 2010

Fried Calamari

Y'all know, I have said before that the most exciting thing about Pomodori e Vino is the challenge. This week the challenge was quite an adventure. It is my week to make Fried Calamari~ no problem! We Southerners are good at frying things!
The true challenge was to find a fresh squid in Birmingham. When Jan and I were cooking up our Bottarga in Venice... I wish we had bought some of these babies at the Rialto Fish Market and fried them up right then and there.

'Allora'~ I was on a search. My first stop was Snapper Grabber's in Vestavia~ the best place for fresh seafood in this area. (one word of advise... don't go on monday because they are closed) I ended up at Whole Foods... and paid a whole paycheck for a bag of frozen squid. The best part about these squid are that they are already cleaned!

This vision played in my mind as I was prepping my little squids for frying~ If you can't see it... it's a you tube video of the Pescheria from Venice Travel Blog. The sights and sounds are perfect~ the smells are undefinable!

The process of frying the calamari rings is very simple. Pat the rings dry, lightly coat with flour and shake off the excess. Fry in vegetable oil without crowding, drain and sprinkle with salt.

Once again, Marcella has provided us with the taste of fresh Italian cooking: one that swells with memories of the Pescheria in Venice.
Priceless!
Ciao y'all~
Sandi


January 21, 2011

Fried Cauliflower with Parmigiano Cheese Batter

The star in Fried Cauliflower with Parmesan Cheese Batter is the tender and flavorful crust. Real Parmigiano- Reggiano cheese makes the perfect batter because it melts without the stringyness of most cheeses. The flavor is so unique~ and of course brings a smile to my face as I remember our tour at the cheese factory last may near Bologna. Here's the link to that favorite trip! We stood between the walls of maturing Parmigiano-Reggiano, as the wheels wait for the day to crack them open. This is a beautiful cheese with a nutty, salty flavor all it's own... that I must say, bears NO resemblance to the stuff in the green shaker!
The batter for these fried cauliflower is a mixture of water and beaten egg with grated parmigiano and flour. The cauliflower is first cooked in a large pot of water and cooled. Once cooled, break the cauliflower in to bite-sized florets. These are dipped in the egg batter and fried in vegetable oil until golden brown. Sprinkle with salt and serve at once.
These are wonderful little bite-sized pieces that are filled with the flavor of fresh Parmigiano.
Ciao y'all~
Sandi

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